Sunday, July 17, 2011


In the comments of an earlier post, I alluded to a possible proof of the non-existence (or at least irrelevance) of God using chemistry and proof by induction. My suggestion was not picked up by the fellow I was conversing with so I never described it, but it is still rattling around in my head so I thought I'd share a summary of it.

Premise: All molecules obey the laws of chemistry. That is, given the opportunity, they will react in known ways to attain lower energy states. For example, if you put NaOH in solution with water, it will attain a known level of ionization (Na+ and OH-) according to the amount you put in, the temperature of the water and so forth. It just happens.

Implication: If all you are is what you see - there is nothing more than chemicals in the Universe, no metaphysics at all - then everything obeys these laws. Period. "You" have no effect on them. In order for you to claim you had an effect on these chemicals, you'd have to show that you made them do something they weren't going to do anyway. You'd have to make them disobey laws of chemistry, in which case everything is wide open again and you'd have to admit that you believed in the Easter Bunny.

Conclusion: A difference that makes no difference is no difference.

If your consciousness has no affect on the world at the molecular level, then it has no effect at any other scale, either. A consciousness that can't do anything is totally irrelevant and for all practical purposes doesn't exist. That means you don't exist.

If you don't exist, then what's the point of God? He may or may not exist, but it's completely pointless to even debate it because it has no ramifications for you (or non-you).

Objection: In comments long ago, someone suggested that because subatomic particles have random motions, it could be that consciousness is located there. We are somehow controlling the random actions of these subatomics or are a collection of them or mumblemumblemumble. If you believe that, then you are an animist because everything has these subatomic particles and there's no particular reason why a rock doesn't possess the same consciousness as you. That's George Lucas' position - the Force is a summary of the animist point of view. "The Force is first described by Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi as an energy field created by all living things, that surrounds and penetrates living beings and binds the galaxy together."

At that point, you have to wonder what the fuss is all about. Animists seem to be about the silliest people out there. The Easter Bunny has nothing on them. Hugging trees? Ha! You'd be out there hugging dirt. Live it up, boys!

So what: So why the argument? What's the big deal here? Why do I get such vitriol and anger from people when I post about this topic? We're all irrelevant, you're not accomplishing anything and there's nothing to be gained from the yelling. Who cares? That leads to ...

The logical, practical conclusion of science-based rationalism:

And that, my friends, is Stephen Hawking's true legacy. Outstanding!


John Travolta said...

Well, I'm not sure if you were aiming this one at me or the other guy, but I'll bite. Sort of. You're losing me around the Easter Bunny part, but it seems to me that you're implying that we can't account for the enormous complexities of human consciousness without resorting to some sort of metaphysical explanation. Is that a fairly accurate paraphrasing of your argument?

Oh, and not to be a grammar nazi, but I think you crossed 'affect' and 'effect'.

Tim Eisele said...

Not sure why you're pegging this one on Hawking; haven't you just summarized the Calvinist position?

Extra credit question: How does the introduction of God to this change things from our point of view? Is life as a marionette really that different from life as a wind-up toy?

K T Cat said...

No, John, I wasn't aiming this at you. Your reply tells me you're not familiar with proof by induction. Complexity doesn't enter into it at all. It's independent of scale. That you can create complex things (the Earth, for example) out of components that behave in known ways does make the complex thing have free will or consciousness.

As for the Easter Bunny, belief in the EB is frequently used in these kinds of discussions as a way of sneering at the ignorant theists. Time to look in the mirror. If you want to claim that you exist as a being, that you have some kind of consciousness, either show how this proof is wrong or embrace the Easter Bunny.

K T Cat said...

By the way, thanks for the grammar correction, amigo. You're always welcome here. You may not think you've got consciousness or free will, but I do.

K T Cat said...

Tim, I'm not familiar with Calvin. I'm going to review Hobbes this week, but he seems like a waste of time for the exact same reasons. I think Nietzsche is the one who got the conclusions closest, but even he failed to carry it all the way out. I wonder if that's what drove him mad - that even his Ubermensch was pointless in the end.

As for God's role in the world, that seems to me to be changing the subject. We're not talking theists here, we're talking science-based rationalism.

tim eisele said...

Calvinism is a Protestant sect, its main distinguishing feature is the doctrine of predestination:; nobody actually has any free will, and are simply following the inevitable rails of whatever God planned for them. It wasn't explicitly based on deterministic physics (Calvin died in 1564, after all), but it might as well have been.

I admit I jumped the gun a bit by bringing up God, but wasn't that where you were ultimately heading, maybe after another two or three posts?

John Travolta said...

No, I'm familiar with inductive reasoning, I'm just not sure what you mean when you say "you had an effect on these chemicals". I am chemicals. So are you. So are all of us. But the 'I' and 'you' and 'us' parts are irrelevant until those chemicals are sufficiently organized to give rise to a living human brain, at which point you can only begin to talk about emergent behaviors such as consciousness.

K T Cat said...

No, not really. I'm just blogging where my thought process leads me as I consider what I've read about science-based rationalism, if that's the right term. I think I get it. I've got decent training in theoretical math, chemistry and a variety of other science and engineering disciplines. If I buy into the premise - science and experimental evidence is all we know - where do I end up?

It seems to me that Jimmy 's song is where I end up. The only way out that I can see is to change the premises and that looks like it leads right back the Easter Bunny.

K T Cat said...

John, in order for you to claim that there is such a thing as "you", you have to show that you had some effect on the world. Given science-based reasoning as your only tool, you can't because it would require you to show that something happened that wasn't going to happen already. If you want free will, consciousness, politics, discussion and all the rest, it seems to me that you're going to have to bring in something other than science. As soon as you do, the game is over.

Logical proofs are heartless, ruthless, implacable things.

tim eisele said...

Well, KT, if you're looking for an admission that I haven't the foggiest notion of how consciousness arises, or even whether consciousness is real or an illusion, then OK. I admit it. I think it is worthwhile to study how it could happen, and try to build models to find out how the process could work, but it clearly hasn't been done yet. I don't think that, with the actual data that we have, anything is going to be settled by pure reasoning, because even reason needs to have some actual established facts to work with [1].

So then, why don't I go all Jimmy Buffett and drink myself into a stupor and have random sex until I die? Well, because whether or not I *do* have free will and consciousness, I *feel* as if I do. And if I have it, but behave as if I don't, then I've wasted any opportunity to do anything important to me (while if I don't have it, then there is no harm in acting as if I do, because that's what I was programmed to do anyway[2]).

And I don't *want* to drink myself stupid, have sex with prostitutes, and probably die alone, friendless, and knowing that no one ever cared about me. Therefore, I choose not to live that way.

[1] I'm a big fan of collecting facts and data before arguing myself into a corner, rather than doing it afterwards.

[2] "I'd notice the difference!" wailed Arthur.
"No, you wouldn't", said Frankie Mouse, "You'd be programmed not to!"

K T Cat said...

Well, because whether or not I *do* have free will and consciousness, I *feel* as if I do.

Congratulations! You're walking down the road to CS Lewis' awakening. You're also going to find a comrade in Aquinas.

As for building models of how it might work, that in itself is meaningless in a science-only world. You already know the answer because you know what you're structural components have to be.

What you're saying is that you're not a science-based atheist after all. If you were, you'd have no choice but to agree that you were meaningless. Not only is proof by induction scale-insensitive, but science-based atheism has still another arrow in its quiver, one that fully annihilates free will and consciousness and does not need fancy math theory.

That's something for a future blog post.

tim eisele said...

Feel better now?

The problem is, I think that Lewis and Aquinas were just as ignorant about the nature and origins of consciousness as I am. Maybe more so, because they went of their way spinning webs of reasoning to obscure the fundamental problem that they were pulling most of their "facts" from thin air. So how is following in their footsteps going to accomplish anything?

Howlsatmoon said...

God is great. Beer is Good. People are Crazy.

You're welcome.

K T Cat said...

Tim, I have to say your comment is saddening. You use the exact same reasoning mechanisms as they do, but you fall back on calling Aquinas and Lewis ignorant because they lacked modern technology. That doesn't seem like a good place to be.

"You don't need an electron microscope to see which way the wind blows." - Bob Dylan.

At least I think it was Bob. It might have been Dr. Mortimer Dylan. Or someone else.


tim eisele said...

KT: I think we are writing at cross-purposes here. I'm not calling Lewis and Aquinas ignorant because I think they "lack modern technology". I'm saying that they are obscuring their ignorance by falling back on a means of getting "knowledge" that I do not trust.

They depended for their starting point on Divine Inspiration. Either their own, or that of earlier writers or prophets. They also used it liberally throughout the course of their reasoning. They believed that with sufficient praying and meditation, Great Truths would simply be implanted in their brains as necessary to reach the goal they were reasoning towards.

To see why I think I can't trust Divine Inspiration, I'd like to ask you to read and reflect on this. Seriously. Consider exactly what it says to do. This describes the exact procedure that my brother says he used to receive a Divine Inspiration that the Book of Mormon was true. Other Mormons have told me that they have done likewise.

Having read the Book of Mormon myself, it is my considered opinion that it is the ravings of a demented con-man. And yet people can readily convince themselves not only that it is true, but that God *told* them it is true. What this tells me, is that using the correct procedures it is possible for a person to convince themselves that they have received a Divine Inspiration confirming anything they like, regardless of its quality. So what good is it?

I've got a choice between (a) not having answers to certain questions, or (b) having a bunch of "answers" that I cannot trust. I prefer the first kind of uncertainty to the second.